My last New Zealand trip – Taranaki

DSC01925

Volcanic black sand on the coast

DSC01943

Chelsea

DSC01945

Wind tower art sculpture….it moves with the wind

DSC01965

Classic Belen

DSC01975

We were the only ones at the lodge.  That’s my yellow garbage liner rain jacket in the corner

DSC01986

Waterfall on the way back to Auckland

DSC01957

DSC01968

DCIM103GOPRO

Stopping point.  Not the summit….we were ill prepared for the crazy weather.

DCIM102GOPRO

Always have time for a Whittikers chocolate snack

DCIM102GOPRO

Kame and Matt visit for the holidays

DSC01490

Crossing a river to get to the (supposed) hot water beach.  There was no hot water.

DSC01494

Cathedral Cove

DSC01495

Looks the part!

DSC01511

Lake Taupo

DSC01515

DSC01518

Flowering pohutukawa

DSC01525

Sister & Brother in Law enjoying their vacation to New Zealand

DSC01526

Beer on the river in Wellington at golden hour.  Doesn’t get much better than this.

DSC01542

North of the South Island

DSC01549

Long exposure of our busy campsite

DSC01563

DSC01569

Typical kiwi bridge…fun!

DSC01575

Fault line waterfall

DSC01577

Not pictured: BUGS

DSC01580

DSC01583

DSC01590

DSC01591

Cloudy Kai Kora

DSC01596

DSC01602

It was a HOT day…and no shade.  We all ended up as red as the lobsters they cook up as street food.

DSC01608

DSC01610 DSC01614

Hai

DSC01616

DSC01624

DSC01628

DSC01647

Spotting the elusive blue penguin in the Akaroa Peninsula the day after New Year’s

DSC01661

Slingin’ mud in Rotorua

DSC01666

Overnight in the Waitakeres

DSC00172

Small town of Huia, last stop before the Waitakeres start.  This was a 10 minute drive away from the Treehouse.

DSC00179

DSC00183

DSC00188

DSC00191

They look like air plants

DSC00193

DSC00198

DSC00201

DSC00202

Wood pidgin

DSC00205

DSC00206

DSC00208

Love this tarptent!

DSC00209

DSC00216

DSC00217

DSC00220

Whatipu

DSC00223

DSC00229

DSC00233

DSC00238

Morepork / Ruru – the New Zealand owl.  I was very lucky to see on in the wild!  Near sunset.  Their call sounds like “more pork, more pork”.

Settling

I’m finally settling down from traveling. The amazing freedom, exploration and companionship I found in Bali is slowly merging to a traditional lifestyle I enjoyed in Los Angeles. I certainly miss traveling already, but there is an amazing amount of potential ahead of me once I get accustomed to the lifestyle.

I stepped off the plane bringing me from Perth to Auckland and felt a chill. It’s summer here, but certainly not overly warm. In the shade, it’s even nice to have pants and a long sleeve shirt. There is a natural ozone hole over New Zealand and the sun is incredibly strong; the difference from shadow to sun is dramatic.

Large, old beautiful trees are everywhere.

20140101-135356.jpg

Auckland is very … unimpressive. It’s the sister city of Los Angeles, known for exceptional city planning and extensive use of public transit – zing! Almost had you there! The CBD is standard for any first world city: clean with a bunch of chic shops, cafés and clubs with the ever present din of cars on the road – far cry from the exotic cities of Asia.

Because the city spreads across a large isthmus, public transit is rarely used. Less than 1 percent of residents use the train regularly and about 5 percent use the bus regularly. The train service is pretty reliable but currently uses ancient Diesel engines! Luckily these are currently being upgraded to electric engines.

Much like the Los Angeles mentality, everyone pushes the necessity of a car. It’s self-perpetuating and the only way to bend the system is to move against it. So my goal is to not own a vehicle for three months. I have a rental car now to get me acclimated, but I will use my feet, my bicycle, the bus, the train, friends and taxis to get around.

Prehistoric food truck

20140101-135410.jpg

In order to make this practical, I have to make compromises. I can’t live in the city center – it’s simply too far to commute. Instead, I had to select apartments that were close to transportation hubs and nearby work. I chose to live in Onehunga, a suburb of Auckland on the south side of the isthmus, as close to work as I can get without living in South Auckland. My commute will mostly be by bicycle, a 9km trek one-way, which already makes it significantly shorter than my LA bike commute. If I choose not to ride, I’m a 30 minute bus ride from work with no transfers. So – jackpot!

Onehunga isn’t a prime place for people my age. On the very outskirts, it’s a self contained town with lots of middle aged people. At least the suburbs here aren’t like the suburbs in the US: the towns only recently joined together to form an Auckland proper, so each town has it’s own small grocery, butcher, laundromat, cafés, etc. everything I need in a day to day basis is only a block away so there’s not much need to go into the city. I was originally looking for flatmates but was surprised at blatant homophobia in ads and general conservative attitude. Maybe I’m just used to the west coast. I decided it would be best for me to have my own space, with the possibility of having an extra person if I could find someone good.

Grazing fields are all over the city!

20140101-135615.jpg

But yes, the county is beautiful. Twenty minutes’ drive and you’re out in the hilly sheep infested countryside and have no idea the city is nearby. The west coast beaches are extremely rugged and beautiful. It gets really windy here, so windsurfing is popular. I went to a west beach and saw about 8 surfers start at the entry and only 15 minutes later they were at least 400 meters downwind!

Another strange thing for me is how cozy New Zealand is with both the US and China. One strange consequence in my opinion is that NZ was one of the last westernized countries to ban shark fining (though will continue to be legal until 2016!) which is a huge export to China.

Rugged west coast

20140101-135840.jpg

20140101-135910.jpg

I still have a lot to learn here.

IMG_1812[1]

IMG_1809[1]